How more sharing could enhance social innovation

During this exploration into using digital technology in later life, supported by Nominet Trust, we have benefited a lot from the experience and ideas of Shirley Ayres, among many others.
Now the Trust has published a paper by Shirley, and the first blog post of a series, on Can online innovations enhance social care? There’s a wealth of great ideas – plus a proposal for better ways to share knowledge in the field, which I’ll come to later.
Shirley acknowledges that technology can’t replace human contact, kindness, empathy and understanding – and then provides a host of examples of how it can help people to connect in different ways, and enable a range of innovative solutions to the challenges of social care. Shirley writes:

Digital technology and social networks provide some of the most powerful tools available today for building a sense of belonging, support and sharing among groups of people who share similar interests and concerns.
I believe we need a dramatic re-think in the way that care and support is organised for adults in the UK. This should focus on keeping people healthy and independent for as long as possible and preventing crises before they occur. It does not seem that statutory social services recognise the reality of the digital age and how technology is supporting the development of new social networks, social learning and sharing resources. We need a major cultural shift which recognises the role of technology in shaping services which are focused around an individual’s needs and aspirations.

Our #dtlater exploration expands on digital technology in support of people’s wellbeing, before care services may be involved, so we believe the two publications will work well together.
We now have a draft of ten provocation and a number of themes – as you can see here – and we will be reviewing those with the Trust to agree how publication can best inform those considering investment and project development in the field. More on those provocations in a later post.
One idea I do want to pick up on now, from Shirley’s paper, is the recommendation for a knowledge hub in this field:

There is a need to explore the potential for developing a Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Innovation Hub which brings together all the organisations funding, researching and promoting digital technology innovations and pilots across  the wider care sector. This could be an independent organisation or a new remit that falls to an existing one, however it could also be developed ‘from the ground up’ in a way that takes advantage of the very technology that it reports on. By supporting practitioners, researchers, funders and policy makers to share resources in ways that makes them highly discoverable,  we could begin, now, to create this useful hub of knowledge.

I’m with Shirley on this. Our research threw up an enormous range of research, scores of organisations, and hundreds of projects, which we have gathered as 16 Storify stories to underpin the provocations and themes. It was very evident that people in the field didn’t know what others are doing – which cuts down on the scope for innovative cooperation – and leads to re-inventing and refunding of digital wheels. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, makes a smilar general point here about social innovation funding.
I was at a meeting recently of the Age Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group where a dozen of so organisation were discussing how they could organise and share their work, and finding it quite a challenge even at that level.
In a recent paper by Geoff Mulgan and Charlie Leadbeater the innovation agency NESTA makes the case for systemic innovation – “an interconnected set of innovations, where each influences the other, with innovation both in the parts of the system and in the ways in which they interconnect”. In other words, joining up people and ideas to create good new stuff from what we have, and what we may develop.
At this point there’s a danger that we drift towards the idea of big databases that need constant updating -which doesn’t happen – and knowledge sharing forums that show little activity after initial enthusiasm, unless there’s a lot of facilitation. Shirley makes the point that we can start knowledge sharing bottom-up in fairly simple ways, by tagging tweets and cooperating on bookmarking.
Of course, as Shirley says, we need a blend of both the formal and informal.
Steve Dale, who designed the substantial local government Knowledge Hub, and has worked on #dtlater, is now exploring the idea of social ecologies as a framework for thinking about the following challenges which he kindly attributes in part to me:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

In his post Steve makes the case for all of us having to get better at finding the knowledge that we need, and making our own connections rather than expecting to find them in one “hub”. I’m sure he will be developing the idea of personal knowledge management and personal learning networks, on his own blog and in the modest social learning space we have used during the #dtlater exploration. Do join us there
I hope that Nominet Trust may help develop Shirley’s idea for an innovation hub – or perhaps social innovation learning space – because their funding and research is now so extensive, and shows the potential for connecting across different fields.
We found a lot of similarities in lessons from both the earlier Digital Edge exploration – about young people and technology – and the current #dtlater exploration. In fact, it became evident that for much of the time we were talking about digital technology in life … not just young life or later life.
The issue of how to share ideas and knowledge also figured strongly in another exploration about People Powered Change for the Big Lottery Fund.
How powerful it would be if Nominet Trust, NESTA and BIG got together to explore what is the most appropriate model for knowledge sharing that is sustainable and leads to practical benefits top-to-bottom – from policy to projects and personal use of digital technology.
It may well be they are doing so already – and if so, here’s another important connection, that would help ensure the work is grounded.
During last year Nominet Trust funded our other social reporter John Popham, with Nick Booth and Lloyd Davies, to take the Trust’s Our Digital Planet exhibition around towns and cities, showing people the potential of digital technology and hearing first hand from them what would make a difference to their lives. John has now written about plans for phase 2. An Our Digital Planet tour could be a great way to showcase the collected projects and gather more.
So – the potential is there, but adhoc sharing isn’t going to be enough on its own. It will need to be underpinned by a model for sustaining activity that involves facilitation and curation as well as good technology. Maybe even social reporting, of course 🙂

  1. Dear David,
    Thank you for this post and for drawing attention to Shirley Ayres’ paper.
    I have quite good contacts with the BCS Health Informatics groups, particularly the Primary Health Care Specialist Group, and other projects associated with the role of information and technology in health. From that perspective, I note that one of the big disconnects is between the world of social care and the world of health care provision. It looks like this disconnect is as bad as ever when we try to discuss informatics and telematics, and Shirley’s paper makes only very limited mention of telematics and informatics in healthcare.
    In November 2011, when the UK Chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization tried to run a day event on the management of knowledge and information in health and social care, we got plenty of co-operation from the health sector but could make no useful contacts with the social care sector. However the event was a success, and our first speaker Ewan Davies did address the importance of care in the health of people with long-term conditions. Readers can see all the presentations and listen to the talks from
    The idea of a Knowledge Hub is a good one, but will it become once again implanted in a Social Care silo without connections to the healthcare world? There are many interesting initiatives looking at using mobile technologies and the Internet to connect people better to their healthcare providers and to give them access to their health records. Dr Muhammad al-Ubaidly’s ‘Patients Know Best’ project lets their subscribers set up a personal Circle of Care that encompasses the various practitioners which look after their complex health needs, but also a wider circle of family and other informal carers, with the patient in charge of who has access to what.
    Another project I would have thought it really important to collaborate with would be HANDI, the Health Apps Network for Development and Innovation, see
    I hope we can get the Nominet Trust to look beyond rim of the Social Care silo and would like to help to make this happen.

  2. Thanks Conrad – as usual you are a mine of cross-sector contacts and insights. Many thanks. I’ll check in again with Shirley and some other contacts that I have, and see if we can make some connections

  3. Knowledge hubs and problems of too much innovation spread over blogs, social media and unconferences is something I’ve also been looking at.
    The main blog is entry is Back2Hack but an additional one titled Place & Play covers more extreme concepts for creating, capturing and curating knowledge.
    I have some funding for an event in York in April which has the dual purpose of talking social care service/product innovation and looking at ways of capturing innovative ideas better.
    We have sponsorship from Creative KYN and York innovation funds but need more to go more there and in future events.

  4. hi david – worth looking at the rights net forum which has been doing this sort of thing for years. like all forums though it has a slight weakness in cataloging/search – it hasn’t quite evolved into a forum and wiki model.
    indeed with complex very large systems it may not be possible to organise info in a structured way without huge resource, rather be best to foster a place where people can keep asking questions and supply answers.
    see also the blog post i link to above about mutual support forums.
    there is also something here in the microsoft model of a series of canonical knowledgebank answers that an ecosystem of people can keep linking back to.
    hope all is well with you

  5. Hi Alastair – sounds really interesting, but I think we lost the links. Can you repost?
    Thanks Will – as I think you may suggest, amidst all the talk of social ecologies and systemic innovation sometimes the simpler solutions can work best – I really liked your post on mutual support forums . Do you think that, say, a wiki and forum approach would work for digital tech in (later) life … perhaps piloted around some high-interest areas? Any connections with current Talk About Local work?
    As I mentioned, the organisations involved in Age Action Alliance are interested in exploring solutions, and some funders might be.
    As you point out in your post, value comes from the human curation and facilitation behind the scenes … but that is also the case with more ambitious systems that often don’t work as well.
    I wonder if we have now reached the point where it is possible to blend greater consumer and community use of tech, more savvy-but-strapped organisations and government, and funders prepared to look at useful-if-not-shiny.

  6. Great discussion and ideas – thanks David. There are limits to cross-silo’d working and aiming to create hubs that are relevant to all the people/orgs that could benefit from them – particularly around who owns them, who has the reputation that crosses these boundaries and who has ongoing responsibility to maintain them etc etc. So although the concept is a great one, delivering is difficult. Conversely, there are real benefits to having an in-depth space for ‘in-sector’ discussions where shared language and approaches make for easy communication. However, I’d argue we can link the two by thinking about back end tech, rather than front end collaborations. Using simple tools like RSS which can pull info from various community-specific sites; indexing well so that they can be searched by other sectors and presenting this info in an appropriate fashion means the back end is doing the heavy linking/cross sector activity; the content creators retain responsibility (and reputation) for the content within work they’re already doing, and yet it can be accessed by new audiences. This approach *should* demonstrate the value of cross sectoral working first, provoking a change in working practices after; rather than aiming to change behaviours before the value is demonstrated. We tried this with which was a first foray into this approach (sorry for the interface Alastair – there was reasoning behind it!) It’s open source so there may be an opportunity to develop it further.

  7. Thanks Dan for joining us (intro to others – Dan has been guiding our work on behalf of Nominet Trust).
    Aside from the particular system we might use, I think there’s probably at least two sorts of content. First that which might be gathered via RSS etc from researchers, organisations in the field and innovative projects – because they are producing material in a ways that can be fed into something like (I’ve seen a powerful demo in the past, but at the moment I’m having difficulty registering. Anyone succeeded? May just be my setup.)
    Then there is a lot of, shall we say, consumer/user content that is people using or exploring tech but not publishing. They might pitch into forums – as Will Perrin suggests – and may or may not be comfortable with the same sort of interface as the first group.
    One of our team is Steve Dale, who has designed a number of knowledge hubs, and I’m sure he’ll be joining in when he returns from an extended trip. Last heard of in the Azores …

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>